Review: POLICE AT THE STATION AND THEY DON’T LOOK FRIENDLY by Adrian McKinty

It’s 1988. Sean Duffy, a rare Catholic policeman in the RUC, is being marched into the woods by three IRA gunmen and one IRA gunwoman. One of them carries a shovel. With which Sean will be asked to dig his own grave.

This is how the sixth book in this funny, sad, brilliant series opens and I nearly stopped right there. Few authors would dare to kill off their series hero and even fewer would do so at the beginning of a novel. But Adrian McKinty is just the sort of twisted bastard of an author to do it if it made for the best story and I wasn’t sure I was ready for that. But…I had to know.

As is the way of such things readers are left on tenterhooks awaiting Sean’s fate while we flashback to a few days earlier and start to learn what has led Sean to his dire situation. In a semblance of unexpected normality Sean is holidaying with his girlfriend and baby daughter at his parents’ house when he is called back to Carrikfergus to investigate a death-by-crossbow in the economically destitute Sunnylands estate. Where “…the only distractions to be had were hassling single women at the bus stop and building bonfires” and Sean can “…almost smell the stench of cheap ciggies, unwashed armpits, solvents, lighter fluid and special brew“. He is presented with a shambles of a crime scene. The body has not been cordoned off. The crowd is so close to it that their cigarette ash is falling onto it. There’s even a goat slobbering over the deceased. Forever contaminating what evidence there might have been. And Sean Duffy’s trusted sergeant John ‘Crabby’ McCrabben has been stabbed by the victim’s wife.

And so begins another adventure in the somewhat surreal life of Sean Duffy, his few friends and an increasingly large pool of enemies. I’ll say nothing more about the plot. Except that it’s a ripper. Lots of twists and turns and enough near-death experiences to have me reaching for the angina medication.

Although you could, you probably wouldn’t read this series just for the plots.

There’s their almost documentary-like observations of life during The Troubles which is done with dark humour yet a light, non-expositional touch. It’s the little things really. Like every time Sean Duffy gets into his car he checks underneath for mercury tilt bombs. Regardless of whether it’s been parked in the street outside his house overnight or he’s nicked into a shop for a minute Sean always checks. Sometimes he does it surreptitiously – pretending he dropped his lighter for example – but he always checks and readers are always told about it. Which means that instead of checking for bombs being a kind of abstract concept – as it would be if we had to infer its repetition from a single mention – we get a glimmer of what it must be like to live that kind of life.

And there are the characters. Duffy is 38 now and feeling every year of it with his newly diagnosed asthma and the effects of years of smoking, drinking and taking the odd recreational drug. He is still able to laugh at some of the chaos but his intermittent depression at the senselessness surrounding them all is still, understandably, there. Though of course he feels and behaves differently with the inclusion of Beth and Emma in his life. Beth is a welcome addition and her depiction seems very realistic as she struggles to stick by the man she loves while he – and their little family – is subject to very, very real danger. Duffy’s two staunchest allies, the aforementioned Crabby and DC Lawson, prove once again what real friends they truly are. It’s really quite a lovely depiction of male friendship; and not the kind involving stupid levels of drunkenness and womanising that is depicted in much of popular culture.

I could go on quite a bit more but if you are not yet convinced it’s probably a lost cause. I will just say that if you like the sound of a book in which the chaos of real life plays more of a role than neat endings and conventional justice then this one is for you. That it has gallows humour, wholly understandable musical snobbery, more than a single traitor and a very fast car is all to the good. If you want the ultimate experience then invite Gerard Doyle into your ears to tell you the story.


Publisher: Blackstone Audio, 2015
Narrator: Gerard Doyle
ASIN: B06X9Z9LDT
Length: 9 hours 49 minutes
Format: audio book (mp3)
Source of review copy: I bought it

Review: GUN STREET GIRL by Adrian McKinty

I should have read GUN STREET GIRL ages ago. I love the way McKinty writes. I was on the panel that awarded this book’s predecessor a Ned Kelly Award. And I really wanted to see what would happen with the fourth book in a planned trilogy (it doesn’t hurt that this scenario has echoes to Douglas Adams, another favourite author who doesn’t think in straight lines). But I went a bit overboard with my objection to all books girl-ish and let GUN STREET GIRL languish on my Audible playlist while I pointlessly and quietly protested. Until now. When shameless selfishness demanded Gerard Doyle read me another Sean Duffy story. Protest against the world’s endless capacity to avoid discussing women as adults be damned.

Not that they aren’t fully formed works of art in their own right but I find the best way to get in the mood for a Sean Duffy story is to first listen to the Tom Waits song from which the book’s title is taken. Not so much to hear the title in a lyrical context (though that is always a pleasure) but to start the process of sinking into Duffy’s world. His way of thinking and observing life. Duffy and Waits share some characteristics; both favouring the dark, even grotesque elements of human nature. Though Duffy is, I think, more likely to soften his observations with humour. Mostly gallows humour it must be said. But bloody funny nonetheless.

It is 1985. Four years since readers first met Sean Duffy. Though he has been through much more than the average person might do in a whole lifetime and not just because he’s the lone Catholic cop in a Belfast police station at the height of the troubles. Though that doesn’t help. Even at a church social for singles the women steer clear. And Duffy doesn’t blame them. As a Catholic policeman “…[his] life expectancy could be measured in dog years“. Little wonder he relies on vodka gimlets and the odd line of cocaine to see him through the day.

In GUN STREET GIRL Duffy and his colleagues are presented with a mystery wrapped in politics and greed; the usual mess for them to unravel. Though at first it looks like nothing much at all. Michael Kelly shot and killed his parents then jumped off a cliff. Then his girlfriend gases herself to death in her car. Or perhaps not. The Carrickfergus station’s newest recruit, DC Lawson, spots some inconsistencies at the latest crime scene and he and DS McCrabban convince Duffy there is more to this situation than meets the eye. And so they dive into a world of arms dealers and spooks and mysterious Americans. While the rest of the city riots. Again.

This series, and perhaps this book most strongly, has a sense of authenticity. The backdrop – bureaucratic madness disguised as strategic thinking and Thatcher’s iron will forcing itself into every corner of the not-so united Kingdom – is entirely realistic. It’s easy too to believe that the things Sean Duffy sees and experiences might very well have happened, even if not all to the same person. And for those readers who lived through the 80’s the cultural references, especially the music, offer the closest thing to time travel any of us are likely to get.

From its opening debacle to its final sadness GUN STREET GIRL had me hooked. At times it is variously funny, heart-breaking, worrying, scary and maddening. But most of all it is a ripper of a ride. And if you like voices in your head there is no better combination than Gerard Doyle as Sean Duffy.


I’ve reviewed all three of the previous books in this series THE COLD, COLD GROUND, I HEAR THE SIRENS IN THE STREET and IN THE MORNING I’LL BE GONE


Publisher: Blackstone Audio, 2015
Narrator: Gerard Doyle
ASIN: B00TXXIPLG
Length: 9 hours 52 minutes
Format: audio book (mp3)
Source of review copy: I bought it

More awards news in Aussie crime writing

InTheMorningIllBeGoneMcKintyAdrian McKinty’s IN THE MORNING I’LL BE GONE was announced last night as the winner of this year’s Ned Kelly Award for best Australian crime novel. It is a brilliant novel about which I have previously banged on at some length so all I will say at this point is congratulations to Adrian. While I am sure it is enjoyable to win any award, I imagine it is all the sweeter when you know you have triumphed in a seriously strong field.

Head over to the Australian Crime Writers Association site to read the judges’ comments and see who won in the other categories last night, then read Adrian’s thoughts about his win. After you’ve done that make your way to your favourite purveyor of literature and snag copies of IN THE MORNING and all the other shortlisted titles to your shopping basket. It’s an excellent collection of contemporary Australian crime writing.

  • Garry Disher, BITTER WASH ROAD (a whistleblower cop’s punishment is duty in rural South Australia where corruption looks like allowing the murderer(s) of a young girl to walk free)
  • Kathryn Fox, FATAL IMPACT (a local forensic procedural that outshines many of its international competition)
  • PM Newton, BEAMS FALLING (if The Wire were a book and set in Australia it would be this one; a more harrowing depiction of modern policing you are unlikely to read)
  • Stephen Orr, ONE BOY MISSING (a missing child in small-town South Australia fails to generate the usual media frenzy but does attract the attention of one jaded but doggedly determined cop)
  • Angela Savage, THE DYING BEACH (as above…a PI tale without alcoholics set in exotic Thailand’s recent past which is fast, funny and thought-provoking)

Awards news in Aussie crime writing

While I was busy being knocked flat by a killer virus (OK it didn’t actually kill me, I just wished it would for a while) in the past few weeks both our major awards for crime writing announced their shortlists and one of them has even announced its winner. So, a belated congratulations to all the nominees.

Davitt Award for best crime novel by an Australian woman

◾Honey Brown, DARK HORSE (a compelling suspense novel with a genuinely surprise ending)
◾Ilsa Evans, NEFARIOUS DOINGS (a funny light-hearted tale about the mysteries beneath the surface of small-town Australia)
◾Annie Hauxwell, A BITTER TASTE (a dark tale of desperation set amidst modern London’s underclass)
◾Katherine Howell, WEB OF DECEIT (a classic procedural which keeps a frenetic pace while managing to depict the real impact of crime on all who are touched by it)
◾Hannah Kent, BURIAL RITES (a haunting work which the author calls speculative historical biography about the last woman hanged in Iceland)
◾Angela Savage, THE DYING BEACH (a PI tale without alcoholics set in exotic Thailand’s recent past which is fast, funny and thought-provoking)

DarkHorseBrownHoney21306_fThough I’m not quite convinced Burial Rights really belongs in the crime genre, this is an exceptionally strong field showing the depth and diversity of Aussie women’s crime writing. The winner of this award (announced last weekend) was Honey Brown’s DARK HORSE and it is a superb novel so congratulations to Ms Brown but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend you rush out and procure all six novels. For pictures of the awards night and information about winners in the other categories head over to the Sisters in Crime website.

Ned Kelly Award for best crime novel by an Australian writer

The winners of the 2014 awards will be announced this coming Saturday as part of the Brisbane Writers’ Festival. The shortlisted books in the best novel category are

  • Garry Disher, BITTER WASH ROAD (a whistleblower cop’s punishment is duty in rural South Australia where corruption looks like allowing the murderer(s) of a young girl to walk free)
  • Kathryn Fox, FATAL IMPACT (a local forensic procedural that outshines many of its international competition)
  • Adrian McKinty, IN THE MORNING I’LL BE GONE (a darkly funny locked-room mystery set against the backdrop of Northern Ireland’s troubles)
  • PM Newton, BEAMS FALLING (if The Wire were a book and set in Australia it would be this one; a more harrowing depiction of modern policing you are unlikely to read)
  • Stephen Orr, ONE BOY MISSING (a missing child in small-town South Australia fails to generate the usual media frenzy but does attract the attention of one jaded but doggedly determined cop)
  • Angela Savage, THE DYING BEACH (as above…a PI tale without alcoholics set in exotic Thailand’s recent past which is fast, funny and thought-provoking)

I didn’t manage to write reviews of all this list either (note to self: must try harder) but again this is a terrific lot of books and I have no hesitation in recommending them all. For judges comments about the shortlist and information on the nominees in the other Ned Kelly Awards categories head over to the Australian Crime Writers Association website

For once I have read all the books on both the ‘best novel’ shortlists for the country’s major crime writing awards and find myself able to sincerely recommend each and every book. Yay for Aussie crime writers.

Review: IN THE MORNING I’LL BE GONE, Adrian McKinty

  • first published in 2014
  • This edition published by Serpent’s Tail 2014
  • ISBN 978-1846688201
  • 326 pages
  • #3 in the Sean Duffy Trilogy
  • borrowed from my local library

Synopsis (publisher)

The third book in the Sean Duffy thriller series. A spectacular escape and a man-hunt that could change the future of a nation – and lay one man’s past to rest.

Sean Duffy’s got nothing. And when you’ve got
nothing to lose, you have everything to gain. So when MI5 come knocking, Sean knows exactly what they want, and what he’ll want in return, but he hasn’t got the first idea how to get it.Of course he’s heard about the spectacular escape of IRA man Dermot McCann from Her Majesty’s Maze prison. And he knew, with chilly certainty, that their paths would
cross.

But finding Dermot leads Sean to an old locked room mystery, and into the kind of danger where you can lose as easily as winning. From old betrayals and ancient history to 1984’s most infamous crime, Sean tries not to fall behind in the race to annihilation. Can he outrun the most skilled terrorist the IRA ever created? And will the past catch him first?

My Take

This story focusses on events in 1983 and 1984: first of all the breakout of a number of IRA terrorists from the Maze prison and then the subsequent IRA bombings of 1984.

And along the way, under the guise of investigating cold cases, Sean Duffy begins to investigate the accidental death of Lizzie Fitzpatrick. This is a locked room mystery, but the coroner had not been satisfied that the death was accidental and returned an open verdict. Mary Fitzpatrick has always been convinced it was murder but no one could envisage how it happened. But why was Lizzie changing a light bulb in the dark, balancing precariously on the bar?

The locked room mystery adds an extra filip to this story. In his teens Sean Duffy had been at school with Dermot McCann, and had known the Fitzpatrick family. I also liked the way McKinty has definitely established a setting and time frame.

Sean Duffy will do almost anything to regain his place in CID but how much is he controlling his destiny?

This probably is the best of the Sean Duffy trilogy, but only by a hair’s whisker.

My rating: 4.9

I’ve also reviewed

FIFTY GRAND
4.6, THE COLD COLD GROUND – Sean Duffy #1
4.8, I HEAR THE SIRENS IN THE STREET – Sean Duffy #2
4.6, FALLING GLASS

About the author

Adrian McKinty was born and grew up in Carrickfergus, Northern Ireland.
He studied politics and philosophy at Oxford University and then
emigrated to New York in 1993. He lived in Harlem for seven years
working at various jobs, with various degrees of legality, and in 2000
he moved to Denver, Colorado to become a high school English teacher.

In
2008 he emigrated again this time to Melbourne, Australia with his wife and kids. Adrian’s first crime novel, Dead I Well May Be, was shortlisted for the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award. The sequel to that book, The Dead Yard, was picked as one of the 10 best books of the year by Booklist and won the Audie Award for best crime fiction novel.

The first book in the Sean Duffy series, The Cold Cold Ground, won the 2013 Spinetingler Award for best novel. The second Sean Duffy book, I Hear The Sirens In The Street was shortlisted for the Ned Kelly Award.

Review: IN THE MORNING I’LL BE GONE by Adrian McKinty

InTheMorningIllBeGoneMcKintyIN THE MORNING I’LL BE GONE completes what is surely one of crime fiction’s best trilogies*. Collectively the set has used an assortment of routine crimes and their investigation as an avenue into the crazy, mixed-up world that was Northern Ireland’s Troubles; offering the kind of insider perspective on everyday life that non-fiction can never quite manage. And while the first two books were both outstanding, IN THE MORNING I’LL BE GONE is…perfect.

As the book opens series hero, Sean Duffy, has been expelled from the police, ostensibly for running someone over with his police vehicle but really because of the many feathers he has ruffled and lines he has crossed in the events depicted in earlier instalments. Just as he is contemplating a move to Spain, where his police pension might stretch a little further and the weather will definitely be sunnier, he gets an offer he can’t refuse. His old school mate and IRA leader Dermot McCann is one of the prisoners who escaped from the Maze prison on one horrendous night and Special Branch wonder if Duffy’s personal connection might enable him to uncover information about McCann’s whereabouts and current plans.

I think my favourite of the many lovable things about this novel is its intricately clever plot that includes a romping, old-fashioned locked-room mystery. I’ll admit to being wary at the first sign of this classic trope because many modern attempts go horribly awry through thinking this an easy plot element to achieve. But McKinty has not succumbed to the lure of the paranormal nor unfairly hidden some snippet of information from the reader and the fact his characters are aware of the infamy of the type of puzzle they’re trying to solve somehow makes it seem all the more legitimate. Being a huge fan of the locked-room story I’d have been happy enough with this alone, but the plot holds much more including an ending that inserts Duffy very credibly into one of the period’s most dramatic real events. Said ending is wickedly unforgettable but not over-the-top and this is such a rare thing in crime novels these days it must be applauded.

Escaped violent prisoners, girls dead too young, injustice in myriad forms and the ever-present worry there might be a bomb under one’s car shouldn’t make ripe ground for laughter but there is a wry humour pervading this novel; lifting the depressing sensibility it might (surely would?) otherwise have. But despite this, or perhaps because of it, the reader is rarely in any doubt that serious business is at hand. This perfect balance between seriousness and humour is evidenced by the novel’s opening sentences

“The beeper began to whine at 4.27pm on Wednesday, 25 September 1983. It was repeating a shrill C sharp at four-second intervals which meant – for those of us who had bothered to read the manual – that it was a Class 1 emergency. This was a general alert being sent to every off-duty policeman, police reservist and soldier in Northern Ireland. There were only five Class 1 emergencies and three of them were a Soviet nuclear strike, a Soviet invasion and what the civil servants who’d written the manual had nonchalantly called ‘an extra-terrestrial trespass’.”

InTheMorningIllBeGoneAudioPossibly even more important than offering a ripper yarn with an undercurrent of humour is the undoubted insight the novel offers into this turbulent time and place. There are banalities and absurdities; terror and dullness; the personal and the political are irretrievably and dangerously intertwined; right and wrong are everywhere: jumbled, often indistinguishable. The problem with most of the non-fiction I’ve read on this topic is that it tries to make sense of it all whereas McKinty seems to have realised the futility of that and just depicted what was: a surreal and often nonsensical morass of humanity at its worst. And best.

I could go on some more but if I haven’t already convinced you to give this one a go then there’s no hope for you. From its Tom Waits’ borrowed title to the very last word of chapter 32 IN THE MORNING I’LL BE GONE is a treat. It offers everything I look for in a novel: lovably imperfect characters, an enveloping sense of its time and place, emotional highs and lows and some of the best laughs you’ll find between two covers. I recommend it to everyone: crime fan or not. And if you happen to be a lover of audio books do yourself a favour and grab the Gerard Doyle narration.


*there are rumours of a fourth Sean Duffy book in the works but, for now at least, this is a complete set.

My review of this book’s predecessors IN THE COLD COLD GROUND and I HEAR THE SIRENS IN THE STREET


Publisher: Print – Serpent’s Tail [2014]; Audio – Blackstone Audio [2014]
ISBN Print version: 9781846688201 ASIN Audio version: B00HWH90XM
Length: 326 pages / 9 hrs 51 minutes
Format: paperback / mp3
Creative Commons Licence
This work by http://fairdinkumcrime.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Review: FALLING GLASS by Adrian McKinty

  • from Audible.com
  • stand-alone novel published in 2011
  • Narrated by: Gerard Doyle
  • Length: 9 hrs and 37 mins 
  • Format: Unabridged audio

Synopsis (Audible.com)

Richard Coulter is a man who has everything. His beautiful new wife is pregnant, his upstart airline is undercutting the competition and moving from strength to strength, his diversification into the casino business in Macau has been successful, and his fabulous Art Deco house on an Irish cliff top has just been featured in Architectural Digest. 

But then, for some reason, his ex-wife Rachel doesn’t keep her side of the custody agreement and vanishes off the face of the earth with Richard’s two daughters. Richard hires Killian, a formidable ex-enforcer for the IRA, to track her down before Rachel, a recovering drug addict, harms herself or the girls.

My Take

This makes very good listening.

Killian comes out of retirement to find Richard Coulter’s wife – the money on offer is far too good. Half a million dollars seems a lot of money for dealing with a custody case. At first Rachel Coulter alone knows why her ex-husband is having her hunted down. There’s a lot more at stake than two little girls.

The tension rises as Coulter pours more resources into the hunt. Killian realises that he himself is being tracked.

This is a difficult book to review without revealing too much of the story and so I’m not going to tell you much more. Despite his background as an IRA enforcer Killian comes over as a likeable character, but his willingness to be ruthless also comes in handy. The story is based mainly in Ireland.

My rating: 4.6

I’ve also reviewed

FIFTY GRAND
4.6, THE COLD COLD GROUND
4.8, I HEAR THE SIRENS IN THE STREET

2013 Ned Kelly Shortlists announced

The shortlists for the Ned Kelly Awards for excellence in Australian crime writing were announced by the Australian Crime Writers Association at the recent Byron Bay Writers Festival. The winners in each category will be announced during the Brisbane Writers Festival on 7 September 

The following links are to the reviews created on Fair Dinkum Crime except where noted. You’ve got a month to get reading so you can compare your thoughts with the judges’.

Best First Fiction

Best Fiction

The links below take you to various reviews because we’re just not into true crime here at Fair Dinkum

True Crime

Review: I HEAR THE SIRENS ON THE STREET, Adrian McKinty – audio book

  • this unabridged version available from Audible
  • Book published 2013
  • #2 in the Sean Duffy series (The Troubles Trilogy)
  • Narrated by Gerard Doyle
  • length 9 hrs 42 mins

Synopsis (Audible)

A torso in a suitcase looks like an impossible case, but Sean Duffy
isn’t easily deterred, especially when his floundering love life leaves him in need of a distraction. So with detective constables McCrabban and McBride, he goes to work identifying the victim.

The torso turns out to be all that’s left of an American tourist who once served in the
U.S. military. What was he doing in Northern Ireland in the midst of the 1982 Troubles? The trail leads to the doorstep of a beautiful, flame-haired, twenty-something widow, whose husband died at the hands of an IRA assassination team just a few months before.

Suddenly Duffy is caught between his romantic instincts, gross professional misconduct,
and powerful men he should know better than to mess with. These include British intelligence, the FBI, and local paramilitary death squads – enough to keep even the savviest detective busy. Duffy’s growing sense of self-doubt isn’t helping. But as a legendarily stubborn man, he doesn’t let that stop him from pursuing the case to its explosive conclusion.

My Take

This is the sequel to THE COLD, COLD GROUND which I reviewed last year. Set in Northern Ireland during the Troubles in 1982. When a male torso turns up in a suitcase, the suitcase turns out to have belonged to a man murdered by the IRA the previous year. The widow lives on an isolated estate and from the beginning Detective Inspector Sean Duffy can see that there are elements of her story about her husband’s murder that don’t quite jell. One thing leads to another and Sean identifies the body as that belonging to an American tourist. Even there, there is something wrong with the story.

With his passion for tying up loose ends Sean eventually follows the story even when he has been expressly warned off. This is noir crime fiction laced with Sean’s own peculiar sense of humour. There’s not just the blackness in the plot, but blackness in the setting – Northern Ireland on the brink of economic disaster, its last remaining industry whimpering to its death.

Adrian McKinty is a master story teller, the writing well polished, the characters well drawn. The dangers of living and working in Northern Ireland in the Troubles are vividly brought to life. He takes us to a time and place few of us have experienced first hand.

The narrator Gerard Doyle does an excellent job.

My rating: 4.8

See Bernadette’s review.

Review: I HEAR THE SIRENS IN THE STREET by Adrian McKinty

As previously noted here at Fair Dinkum Crime we’ve an elastic definition of Australian and are happy to adopt this particular Irish-born author writing about Ireland because he has lived in Australia for the past five or so years (and he loves living in St Kilda).

IHearTheSirensInTheStreetI am not the world’s biggest noir fan.  Even if I ignore a lot of things described as noir that really aren’t it’s still not a favourite form of my beloved genre. The main reason for this is that a lot of it is unrelentingly bleak and I find this depression-inducing and a little on the dull side due to its sombre predictability. Funny noir is, however, a whole different ball game and I HEAR THE SIRENS IN THE STREET is bloody hysterical.

It is set in Northern Ireland in 1982. What the locals, masters of understatement, refer to as the Troubles has been raging for more than a dozen years. Unemployment is high, almost anyone who can is leaving for greener pastures oceans away and bombings, riots and murder are as much a part of daily life as breakfast. Amidst this version of human chaos a dismembered torso is found in a suitcase and Sean Duffy, one of few Catholic policemen in the Royal Ulster Constabulary, is tasked with identifying the man and finding out who murdered him.

Perhaps not, at first glance, ripe ground for comedy but, particularly in the novel’s cracking dialogue, McKinty has captured a vein of very black humour that is entirely realistic and which lifts the novel from the deep depths of despair that so much noir thrives on. This doesn’t mean the book treats its subject or setting with disdain or disrespect; rather it shows that for some the only way to cope with life’s grim realities is to laugh in face of them, even if at the very same time you are experiencing the bowel loosening fear of forgetting to check that the car you’re driving had no bombs under it that morning.

While his fondness for vodka gimlets might be seen as a precursor to the alcoholism that so many fictional detectives exhibit Sean Duffy does not, for the most part, conform to the tropes of the genre. He’s a bit too upbeat and hopeful for that and not heroic in the traditional sense of the word. He is a tenacious bastard though, usually to the point of his own downfall and, as in the best noir traditions, the reader is never sure if he will irreversibly cross an invisible line into wrongness at some point but there is a delicious tension in waiting to see.

There are crime novels with plots and characters so generic that they could take place anywhere, any time. SIRENS isn’t one of those. Everything from the social backdrop to the musical soundtrack that accompanies Sean Duffy through his days anchors this novel to its time and place (though my ego could have done without quite so many song references reminding me that this work of historical fiction is set at a time I well remember). The traditional investigation soon identifies the victim as an American who served in WWII and not long after is stonewalled by a local community’s avowed disregard for “the peelers”. But the fleeting asides are equally insightful, perhaps especially Duffy’s interactions with his mostly Protestant, mostly police-hating neighbours, the unofficial leader of whom declares with affection that they’ll kill Duffy last if it comes to that.

Despite being noir this is my favourite kind of crime fiction. It transported me to a time and place that is recognisable and enveloping, it taught me things without me really being aware of it and kept me guessing from beginning to end. The fact that it made me laugh out loud on multiple occasions is the icing on the cake. I highly recommend it to all, but only after you’ve read the first book in the trilogy.


I reviewed the first book in this series, THE COLD, COLD GROUND, last year .


Publisher: Allen & Unwin [2013]
ISBN: 9781846688188
Length: 334 pages
Format: paperback
Creative Commons Licence
This work by http://fairdinkumcrime.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.